Can Prefects Take Points?

by Nadia T.M. Wheeler

J.K. Rowling’s web site has been a wonderful gift to all Harry Potter fans, heightening our anticipation for the next two books (if that’s even possible!) with clues, amusing us with funny anecdotes, giving us the background information we are so curious about, and letting our theories have some sort of basis in fact instead of becoming only wild speculation. I’m sure “Jo” would be the first to admit that she has made occasional minor mistakes in her masterful books, and she has even admitted to a few on the site. Any small mix-ups, (like the famous “wand order mistake” in GoF) just add to the fans’ fun, and let us all be amazed with how few mistakes she has actually made when writing about her very complicated world. It is quite impressive how she’s kept track of the rules she set for her world, and she rarely strays from them. In the spirit of fan-sleuthing, and to prove that I am indeed an obsessive fan of many things (I love Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Harry Potter, among other things), I’d like to discuss what I think is an uncorrected error in the latest Harry Potter book.

Most would agree that a large problem Harry and the rest of Gryffindors, as well as most other houses beside Slytherin, had in the Order of the Phoenix was the way the “Inquisitorial Squad” kept deducting house points from them. An FAQ on J.K. Rowling’s site asked a question pertaining to this which was:

Q: Can prefects take points or not? A prefect took points from Gryffindor in the Chamber of Secrets, and then there was a reference to prefects not being allowed to dock points. What are the rules?A: Ron got it wrong in ‘Phoenix’, from which we deduce that he hasn’t been a very authoritarian prefect thus far; he clearly hasn’t been taking points from anybody.

I found this question interesting, since I was also under the impression that prefects were not allowed to take points from people. I recently investigated Jo’s claim while reading over Order of the Phoenix, and have come to the conclusion that, while her attempt to reconcile the books on the subject of prefects and points makes some sense, I’m afraid I can’t really believe it. Let me explain to you why I think this is also a minor mix-up pertaining to the books.

First of all, the fan was wrong. Ron did not actually say that prefects cannot take points. It was Ernie Macmillan who said:

“It’s only teachers that can dock points from Houses…”
(625, OotP)

Ron took very little part in the conversation, except he reminded Malfoy – who actually agreed with him and Ernie on this – that prefects can’t dock points! After taking 30 points from the trio and Ernie, Malfoy left and Ernie Macmillan insisted:

“…he can’t be allowed to dock points… that would be ridiculous… It would completely undermine the prefect system…”
(626, OotP)

This exchange deserves a hard looking at. Is it possible that Dumbledore picked such lazy and disinterested candidates for prefect that not one of them bothered to figure out what a prefect could and could not do? Even Hermione, whom everybody knows is a know-it-all, agreed with Ernie and Ron and Malfoy by keeping silent on the subject. Even if she didn’t want to make a scene with Malfoy, she could have corrected Ernie and Ron’s mistaken impressions later on. Could all these prefects – Ernie, Ron, Malfoy and even Hermione – have just “gotten it wrong” on the subject of points?” I think it rather unlikely.

For one thing, Ernie Macmillan comes off as quite a pompous, rule-loving person, and he would probably be a very authoritarian prefect, and eager to dock points for any rule breaking if he had the chance. Also, judging by the previous comment, he seems to have some familiarity with the “prefect system.” He is even hesitant to sign the list of people who are going to join the D.A., as it might jeopardize his status as a prefect. He says:

“I-well, we are prefects… And if this list was found…”
(346, OotP)

Is it likely that a boy with a personality like Ernie’s would not bother to find out whether prefects are allowed to take points or not? Let’s talk about Hermione for a second. I imagine that after becoming a prefect, her first impulse would probably be to reread every book that had anything at all to say about prefects and their duties, even if it didn’t specifically state that she did that in the book. You’d think she would at least brush up on what a prefect’s duties are and what they are allowed to do. Also, you’d think that the meeting with the Head Boy and Girl that the prefects had on the train on the way to Hogwarts in OotP would also help them brush up on their duties. In conclusion, I can’t believe that all of these prefects are too dense to not know that they’re allowed to take points. Therefore, the only logical explanation I see is that they are not allowed to take points.

But now we come to the issue of Percy in Chamber of Secrets. The following passage occurs after Percy finds Ron coming out of Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom:

“Five points from Gryffindor!” Percy said tersely, fingering his prefect badge. “And I hope it teaches you a lesson! No more detective work, or I’ll write to Mum!”
(158, CoS)

This seems to establish, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that in THAT book at least, prefects are allowed to take points from people. However, we’ve just conclusively proved, that J.K Rowling says in Order of the Phoenix, prefects are not allowed to take points from people! Then J.K. Rowling has agreed on her site, that Percy was right and all the prefects in Order of the Phoenix and all the other students who did not correct the oblivious prefects were wrong. So where exactly does this leave us you may ask? Is Percy a rogue prefect who somehow bewitched the hourglasses so that they would respond to him as well as to the teachers? Have all the new prefects and old students in Order of the Phoenix been memory-charmed so that they all forgot that prefects can dock points? Is it all an evil plot of Voldemort’s, so that he can take over all the prefects’ minds, making them forget this crucial piece of information? Will the Half-Blood Prince be the only one allowed to dock points in the next book? Uhhh… I don’t think so.

What is my opinion on the subject? I think that all the prefects in Order of the Phoenixwere right. Prefects cannot dock points. I also think that Percy was not doing anything illegal in Chamber of Secrets. How is this possible, you ask? I believe he was not doing anything illegal, because as of then, J.K. Rowling had not made it illegal. But, but, but… you say, that would mean that… that… No!

Yes! I’m afraid that the only conclusion I can come to is that our beloved author, our guide to Harry’s world, made a minor mistake – one which proved to be somewhat important in the plot of Order of the Phoenix. “How can it be true?” you ask, your bags of Every Flavor Beans dropping to the ground out of your nerveless fingers. How can an author who has a lot of minor characters to keep track of, a lot of major characters to keep track of, a lot of school rules to remember, and 870 pages in her latest book miss this bit of information? How indeed.

Personally, I applaud her and her editors for making such few mistakes, and I can let this one slide without any trouble, as it doesn’t really seem to be all that integral to the plot anyhow. And of course, it could happen that I will be proven wrong, that I’ve missed some little bit of information myself, and J.K. Rowling did answer the prefect question correctly. Well, if that does happen, all I can say is: It can happen to anybody. Even to our favorite author.

If you have any thoughts on this subject, or think I missed something really big, you can e-mail me here. Thanks!

Edited to add on 12/16/04: Many of you have E-mailed me with some rather logical explanations for the prefects and points problem, some of you in denial that any mistake, not matter how trivial, could be made in our books, and I can relate, it is hard to concieve. The most popular explanation is: Prefects can only take points from thier own houses. This explanation is one I hadn’t really considered (shocking, I know) however, I think it might involve assuming a bit too much. If this was the case, prefects can only take points from thier own houses, why wouldn’t the ever correct Ernie say, “It’s only teachers who can dock points from “other” houses? Also, I don’t think this punishment being alloted to the prefects to give out would do much good, as what prefect would actually take points from thier own house? Maybe an incredibly honorable prefect, but how often do you think Slytherin, or the very competative Gryffindor would lose points? The winning of the house cup is a fiercely competative thing. Also, why doesn’t Hermione, who is a very honorable prefect, not take points from Fred and George when they defy her? I do admit thought, that this could be the small mistake I’ve made that will prove that Percy taking points wasn’t a mistake of J.K. Rowlings, however, I’m afraid I still don’t think that explanation quite explains everything. Another popular explantion was the Prefects can’t take points off of other prefects, but they can take points from other houses. I don’t think this explanation works, for one reason that an astute reader helped point out to me, the house cup would become a battle between prefects instead of the whole house. However, I admit that even on this I could be wrong, though I think that the prefects can take points from other houses but not other prefects makes less sense than the other one. Thank you all for your astute observations! Please forgive me if I don’t get back to you as fast as I might, I’m a little busy now.